By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, May 22 (Yonhap) — Mexico and North Korea have been in talks for the repatriation of North Korean crew members aboard a blacklisted ship detained off Mexico last year, the Mexican foreign minister said Friday.
The 33 North Koreans have been staying in Mexico since last July when their 6,700-ton freighter, the Mu Du Bong, ran aground on a reef off Tuxpan in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Mexico detained the ship after identifying it as belonging to Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMM), which was blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council for illegally shipping arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, on another vessel in 2013.
North Korea is under a wide range of U.N. sanctions, including an arms embargo, due to its nuclear and missile tests.
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency held at the Hotel Shilla, Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Meade stressed that his country will comply with its obligation within the U.N. to detain the boat.
Mexico will, however, continue to engage North Korea over the repatriation of the crew members, he said.
“That is a dialogue that is ongoing within the context of Mexico’s international obligations, and under those obligations we will do whatever needs to be done to provide for the humanitarian needs of the group,” Meade said. “We have to find a way to resolve the humanitarian challenges posed by our needs to freeze the boat.”
Last month, North Korean Deputy U.N. Ambassador An Myong-hun demanded the release of the ship and its crew, claiming the Mu Du Bong is “totally a peaceful and legitimate commercial ship which sails under the direction of the Ministry of Land and Sea Transportation.”
He also said North Korea had paid Mexico for damages to the reef.
OMM, meanwhile, has been covering the expenses of the crew and the ship.
“The crew is free. They are not being held. Their mobility is not restricted in any way,” Meade said. “We just need to find a way through dialogue with North Korea to repatriate them.”
The foreign minister arrived in South Korea on Thursday to attend a meeting with his counterparts from Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia — collectively known as MIKTA.
The meeting on Friday is the fifth of its kind since the group took off in 2013 under a joint proposal by Meade and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
Meade credited Yun with strengthening the multilateral partnership.
“MIKTA has started to consolidate as a space of dialogue under Korean leadership,” he said. “Yun Byung-se has, I think, committed a lot of his time and political capital to consolidating this group, and I think that the reports that we will get during this MIKTA summit will show that we are now doing more bilaterally amongst each other, we are better coordinated, and we have a better understanding of the multilateral issues each one of us is engaged in.”
MIKTA’s five countries rank 12th to 18th in the world in terms of GDP, wield considerable influence in their respective regions and belong to the G-20 major economies without belonging to either the G-7 or BRICS.
On Mexico’s bilateral relations with South Korea, Meade expressed hope that the two countries will continue to develop their ties in economics, politics, culture and other areas.
“Ideally, next year, we would want President (Enrique) Pena Nieto to respond to President Park (Geun-hye’s) invitation and to be able to find a convenient time for him to visit Korea,” he said.